Monday, July 30, 2012

The delicate one

Chestnut sprawls on his back diagonally across Bear’s bed, his fluffy white belly exposed to the ceiling, his back legs stretched towards one corner of the yellow blanket, his chin towards the other. He is long enough to almost take up the entire space. His eyes are closed and his front paws, white tipped at the ends of orangey-beige legs, curl casually across his chest, while his tail lies in a relaxed curve along the length of his back legs. He does not look like a cat in distress.

I only discovered there was a problem when I found the puddle of blood outside the litter box last Sunday. Chestnut has had urinary tract infections before so I knew right away the blood was his and not Cleo’s, but other than that obvious sign there was no indication there was anything wrong with him. He was his usual food-obsessed, bed-hogging, loud-purring self.

Chestnut is the most laid-back cat I have ever known. He is a master of passive resistance, a solid lump of a cat who would rather be sat on than have to move. The only time he has ever had cause for alarm was when I brought home that crazy puppy four years ago, the one who was going to stay with us for just a few days until we found him a home, the one who turned everyone’s life upside down and who we eventually named Murdoch. His arrival just happened to coincide with Chestnut’s first UTI, which included crystals and catheters and hospitalization.

Ever since then we have considered Chestnut to be rather delicate and have tried to keep stressful situations to a minimum and feed him urinary tract health-specific food and provide about 20 different options for water. And he’s been doing so well. So I was extremely disappointed when I discovered the problem was back and realized we’d become lax during his bout of good health; we took it for granted and we changed his food.

Chestnut hardly made a fuss when I stuffed him backwards into the cat carrier on Monday morning. The loud protests started in the car and continued the whole way to the vet’s and into the waiting room. When no one came to his rescue, he eventually gave up and just stared out through the metal bars of the door with an expression of pure disgust on his face.

I handed over the empty pill bottle with the tiny urine sample I’d collected that morning by stalking the litter box and sliding the lid of a yogurt container underneath the cat whenever he squatted, collecting just a few drops at a time in hopes that it would all add up to enough for the vet to run tests.

The poking and prodding part of the visit went smoothly and we returned home with two kinds of medication and a new bag of food at which Chestnut repeatedly turns up his nose. “That’s what you’re getting Chestnut,” I tell him every time I tip the kibble into his dish and he sniffs it then follows me back to the food cupboard pleading his case. “I can’t live on that stuff!”

It is the pills I dread giving him. It seems so mean to crouch over him and force open his mouth and stuff in a pill around a flicking tongue and gnashing teeth and then clamp his jaw closed until he has swallowed, sometimes foaming at the mouth as the pill begins to dissolve. Sometimes he spits it out and we have to start all over again.

I hug him each time he takes a pill and kiss his head and hope that he doesn’t hate me. When I let him go he walks stiffly away licking his lips and I sit, waiting for him to turn around, which he always does. He stalks back to me, his feet thumping across the floor and rubs his face against my knee, his body against my arm. I run my hand down his back and watch white fur float behind him and I am so glad that Chestnut is too laid-back to hold a grudge.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tea with sticks

A breeze, cool in a mid-summer kind of way, washes through the trees, fanning and flapping leaves, bending saplings this way and that, swirling around thicker trunks of bigger trees and blowing away the biting bugs.

I sit on the deck, shaded from the heat of a white sun beneath this glowing green canopy, individual leaves outlined in gold. Bear lies on the short-sheared scrub of greenery just off the deck that last year grew to four-foot plants with leaves the size of dinner plates and darning needles for thorns. She sniffs casually at the air, her silky ears falling back from her perfect Lab face. I sip tea and breathe the same air and wonder what she smells.

I have been gone for a while, visiting family and then away again for work, and I missed these quiet moments with Bear, of just being together in the same place and, for a short time at least, without any expectations.

But Murdoch is there too and he is hyper after days of not getting his regular run. He clunks across the deck dragging his line behind him, all business and ready to do something else, anything else, than just sit here. His wide brown eyes settle on mine with purpose, searching for a hint of excitement, imploring me to let him off his line so he can run away through the woods.

I give him a half smile and quietly put down my mug of tea, then push myself up from the chair and he leaps sideways off the deck, spins around and pounces on a stick he has left waiting in the cropped weeds.

He brings it to me and I throw it, watch him send up a spray of stones and then tear at the ground as he thunders after the stick, his body moving with fluid power. Wind streams through his hair and his line zips along behind him, metal against metal. He snatches up the stick from where it tumbled to a stop and spins around to return at the same speed.

I throw it again and as he takes off after it I hear a disgruntled grumble behind me. I turn to find Bear standing there, muscles tensed, ready to get in the game. She stomps her feet and stares at me and rushes forward. I find another stick by the deck and hold it out for her. She takes it carefully in her mouth at first and then clamps her teeth around it with a crunch and returns, with a skip in her step, to the spot where she had been lying and sniffing the air and settles in to tear the stick to shreds.

When Murdoch dashes back, he doesn’t drop the stick but props it up between his paws in the loose stones along the edge of the deck and gnaws manically on one end. He lies down to chew more thoroughly and I return to my mug of tea and the breeze in the trees and the sounds of splintering wood.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Water world

Murdoch splashes through puddles that fill ruts in the trail. The puddles are long and point the way both forward and backward along the path, like double-ended arrowheads, swelling in the middle to stretch across almost the entire width of the trail.

In the deepest spots the water is up past Murdoch’s knees and he wades noisily through them, scooping up great mouthfuls of water, snapping his jaws like a hungry alligator. He won’t lie in the puddles like Bear or Jack, who both wallow happily in the midst of the muddiest water, but if I let him I think he would drink every last drop.

At the swimming hole Murdoch runs ahead, throwing glances over his shoulder to make sure I’m following and then he disappears down the steep bank, swishing through the long grass, his feet squelching in the mud, and then silence. I catch up and peer over the edge of the embankment. Murdoch stands at the water’s edge, poised to leap into action at any moment. All I can see is the back of his head but I know his eyes are scanning the still surface of the water just waiting for the tiniest ripple.

I turn back to the trail and pick up a pebble then toss it over hand, above the ever-growing bushes, into the water. It lands with a tiny plink and a splash and Murdoch explodes from the edge of the swimming hole, his legs propelling him up and out into the water to land like a giant cannon ball not far from the expanding ripples.

Murdoch swims frantically to where the pebble splashed and disappeared beneath the surface of the water, not interested in actually finding the pebble but in capturing and eating the splashes. But they dissipate so fast he has to settle for snapping up the ripples left in its wake.

I throw more rocks, plink, splash, into the water and he changes direction, paddling so fast his shoulders rise higher above the surface. He hoovers up the water as he circles the pond again and again so I can hear it sloshing in his belly as he walks home beside me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rescue mission

A rabbit at my home in Thunder Bay.
It was as I headed back along the edge of the highway, re-tracing my steps on the uneven ground, walking a little slower and yet on the verge of giving up, that I finally found the rabbit. It lay completely still and completely visible nestled in amongst tall grassy weeds and broken rock chips in the shallow ditch, not two feet from the edge of the busy road, and I wondered how I had missed it the first time I walked past.

I stood for a moment and stared at the tiny creature, the heavy heat of the day, the hot smell of tarmac, the slapping of a lazily choppy Lake Ontario against the rocks on the other side of the two-lane highway and the oddly cool metal of the guardrail beneath my hand all forgotten as my eyes focused on the rabbit and tried to convince my brain it was really there even though I had been certain just seconds before that it was long gone.

The rabbit lay so still, without so much as a twitch of a nose or a flick of a whisker that if it wasn’t for its eyes, black and shiny, and its head upright, ears pointed to the purple flowers growing from the rock face above, I would have thought it was dead.

I first spotted the rabbit as I drove along the stretch of road that follows the shoreline of Lake Ontario, past houses and parks, on my way to the small village where I had been visiting with my parents for a week and a half. The rabbit was sitting on the paved shoulder of the road while cars zipped past just inches away. It was clearly injured. It looked like its backend had been clipped by a car and during the first few seconds in which I saw the rabbit and realized it was very much alive, Max popped into my head.

The rabbit sat like Max used to, his front legs holding him upright and tall, his back legs limp and withered at his side. “What do I do?” I said to the empty car as I turned off the radio. “I can’t just leave it there.” But could I take it to my parents’ house? “Here mom and dad, here’s an injured rabbit you can nurse back to health.” And I was leaving in a couple of days.

When I returned to the spot 15 minutes later with a cardboard box lined with newspaper, my mom, and an address for a local wildlife rescue, the rabbit was gone. And as I scoured the narrow strip of weeds and rocks that lay between the road and a towering sheer rock face I tried to convince myself I had been mistaken. The rabbit had merely been stunned and, recovering after a few minutes, had hopped off on his merry way.

But there it was, lying in the weeds at my feet, trying desperately to be invisible. Okay, I thought, I need to stay calm. As soon as the rabbit realized I'd seen it though, it started to life and tried to get away, scrabbling anxiously at the weeds with its front legs, its back legs lying frustratingly useless behind him. I tried to quietly explain what I was doing as I placed the box on the sloping ground and donned a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of my dad’s work gloves.

As I knelt down beside it and looked into its startled black eyes like great round marbles I thought of Max again. The rabbit’s colouring, tall ears, wide black eyes and the way it lay on its side with its back legs unmoving reminded me so strongly of Max and I purposely thought of him as I reached down with my hands twice their size in the worn leather work gloves, trying to channel his gentle energy, as if somehow he could tell this rabbit not to be afraid, that I was there to help it.

I wrapped my hands around its tiny chest and waited for a moment until it stopped struggling. The only mark I could see on him was a red scrape on his left knee. There were no other obvious injuries so I tried to lift the rabbit smoothly into the box that my mom, who had appeared beside me, now held steady. We covered the box with my long-sleeved shirt and returned to the car.

I sat with the box on my lap while my mom drove to the next town almost half an hour away where the wildlife rescue is located, and I peered under the shirt every few minutes to make sure the rabbit was still alive. It lay completely motionless against one side of the box, frozen again in its defensive way, and I had to look very closely to see the tiniest movement of its chest to tell me it was still breathing.

It was late Friday afternoon and we had been unable to reach anyone on the phone at the Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre so we hoped there would be someone there when we showed up on the doorstep with the rabbit. We didn’t really have a backup plan.

As we pulled in to the cool shady driveway of the Centre, which is run out of a private residence on the edge of farm country and marked only by a small weather-worn wooden sign at the road, we were relieved to find a handful of cars, some dogs, and people milling about.

“What have you got there?” asked a woman with an armload of bags.

“A rabbit,” I said, somewhat apologetically for just showing up, yet hopeful that they could do something. She directed us to a tiny white building, on the outside of which was a large chicken-wire cage full of various birds.

Inside we handed over the rabbit to volunteers and as I removed the shirt from the top of the box the rabbit began scrabbling at the cardboard in an attempt to escape. I took that as a good sign.

After we filled out some paperwork, we thanked the people profusely for being there and doing what they do. We were told if the rabbit is rehabilitated, he will be returned to the area where he was found.

That night we toasted to the rabbit’s speedy recovery and hope that he will never find his way back to the road.

Safe travels little rabbit.